The Montreal Canadiens got a bit of a jump on NHL free agency and all the insanity it brings when they acquired four pieces in a trade for second-year defenceman Simon Bourque. In return for the defence prospect, they collected a seventh-round pick in 2019, a fourth-round pick in 2020, goaltender Steve Mason and forward Joel Armia from the Winnipeg Jets.
With four pieces coming back in this trade, we’ll try to break them down section by section to see what value they hold.
The draft picks
Initially, the return looks incredible for Montreal, gathering up tangible assets in a trade for an AHL defender with three career points to his name. Getting just the picks alone is a worthwhile investment for a team looking to continue the restocking of its prospect pool. Getting two picks for someone drafted in the sixth round is a sound return on investment.
This is becoming a bt of a trend with Bergevin now, as he flipped his own picks at the NHL draft to acquire more total picks in the end. Not only that, but he also shipped out Hayden Hawkey and got back a fifth-round pick from the Edmonton Oilers. Hawkey himself was a sixth-round pick who has yet to play a professional game, and has one year of college left. Getting higher-value assets in return for players or other picks is always smart business, especially if you’re planning a rebuild on the fly.
Here is the interesting part of this trade. In addition to the picks and Armia, the Habs had to take on a salary dump in the form of Steve Mason. Mason was about to begin the last year of a two-year, $4.1 million deal, after playing in just 13 total games in 2017-18.
Early reports indicated the primary plan was to flip him to another team while holding onto a bit of his salary to facilitate that deal. Instead, the Canadiens decided to buy out his contract, paying him a portion of what remained over the next two seasons.
Mason has been battling injuries and inconsistency since his time in Philadelphia, where he had several quality seasons as a tandem starter. He was never going to be a Vezina Trophy candidate, but when he’s on his game he’s a solid player between the pipes.
Buying out Mason is going to cost Montreal $1.367 million for this season and next, which will sit as dead cap space. It’s not a major burden to carry, especially with the amount of space Montreal had available.
It’s arguably the best case for both the player and team involved, Mason can get a fresh start elsewhere while Montreal doesn’t further congest their pipeline in net.
Hailing from Pori, Finland, Joel Armia is the newest member of the Canadiens’ Finnish Legion. He joins Artturi Lehkonen and Antti Niemi at the NHL level, while the recently drafted Jesperi Kotkaniemi (also from Pori) and Jesse Ylönen, as well as 2017 second-round selection Joni Ikonen, are in the Canadiens’ prospect pool.
At the draft, Kotkaniemi told reporters that Armia was one of his idols growing up in Finland, and now he may have the chance to play alongside him in upcoming seasons.
Getting down to the basic numbers and facts, Armia came to the Jets in the massive Tyler Myers/Evander Kane swap a few seasons ago, and has become a bottom-six staple for them since. He’s just 25 years old, and coming off a two-year deal that paid him $925,000 per season, he also has arbitration rights if it should get to that point. A new deal for Armia shouldn’t take much time at all to hammer out, and would likely cost the Habs next to nothing overall.
He has flashes of offensive brilliance, and with his relentless puck pursuit skills he can bring some talented depth to this Habs lineup. He isn’t going to be a prolific scorer, but he’s a defensively responsible forward who can also turn it on offensively when given the chance.
He can also create goals like this one:
That is an impressive goal regularly, but to do so while short-handed is even more impressive. He outworks Taylor Hall (which is amazing on its own), then battles through the stick checks and a Devils defender before creating space to wire home a perfect shot. That is the type of player you want playing in your bottom six.
In his two full seasons with the Jets, something is very clear about Armia as well: he drives pucks toward the net. That could lead to an uptick in his production should he maintain that game.
The first chart looks a bit ugly, but it requires a bit of context, primarily that Armia was playing much higher in the lineup than he did last season, and that he was utterly snakebitten while there. To produce individual shots and expected goals for at that rate is fantastic, but as the chart shows his shooting percentage was brutal that year. He still managed 10 goals, which wouldn’t be awful for a bottom-six player. When he was shifted primarily to a defensive role outside the Jets’ top six the following year, everything clicked and Armia became a key cog in a ridiculously deep Winnipeg team.
He plays heavy defensive minutes, takes time on the penalty kill, and can slot in as a power-play asset as well. His possession numbers are strong, he creates scoring chances when he plays, and, above all else, is defensively responsible. At 6’3’’ he’s a big body on the ice, and he uses that to protect the puck well and win battles along the boards.
He’s been everything at the NHL level that Habs fans have been hoping for in Jacob de la Rose.
Out of everything in this deal, landing Armia is a true steal for Marc Bergevin, as he adds a youthful asset who can help immediately as the rest of the team fluctuates through free agency and potential trades.
Overall, this looks like a good deal for the Canadiens. They acquired three tangible, useful assets for a middling AHL prospect, and only had to take on one year’s salary of a bad contract to do so. If they’re going to miss out on major free agents, stockpiling future assets like draft picks and prospects in a similar manner to this is the best way forward for Marc Bergevin.
All in all, this is a great trade for the Canadiens given their current situation, and a promising way to start off the free agency period.